FRIDAY FEATURE

CrossFit, proper nutrition changed the lives of Jen and Mike Pendleton

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Mike Pendleton was 303 pounds and stuck on a rollercoaster at Universal Studios. 

His wife, Jen had topped out at 265 pounds, was unable to find a diet that consistently worked.

The couple in their mid-40s at the time were headed down a dangerous path. Mike toward a deadly heart attack and Jen aimed right at a deep, dark hole of depression.

“I was really depressed and really down on myself,” Jen said. “I thought something was really wrong with me and there was a reason that I couldn’t figure this out on my own.”

Something had to give. But what?

Jen, who had been struggling with her weight for 20 years, finally found the right weight loss doctor.

What started as a low carb diet in 2014 has turned into a new way of life for the Parke County couple.

Jen shed 65 pounds, but hit an 18 month plateau. 

“What I didn’t realize then that I know now, was what started me losing weight, wasn’t going to get me the rest of the way,” she said.

For Mike, the rollercoaster scare finally changed his outlook.

“I’ve had various doctors tell me I was going to die of a heart attack and I blew it off like nothing,” he said. “and I got stuck on a rollercoaster and magically after that something clicked in my head and I said ‘I’ve got to do something about this.’”

Mike joined Jen on the low carb regimen and lost 70 pounds in just under a year.

They were heading in the right direction, yet still something seemed to be missing.

Enter CrossFit.

Jen initially was tricked into an on-ramp session at a Lebanon CrossFit box by a co-worker, but the transformational moment came in the least likely of places.

An unheated pole barn in Crawfordsville. A couple of rowers, bikes, and cold barbells.

And a 30+ minute drive from their home at Raccoon Lake. But the Pendleton’s kept showing up. 

Jen and Mike had bought into the idea they could completely change their lives from a physical standpoint.

Enter DJ Elliott. 

The Pendleton’s had met Elliott at a CrossFit facility in Crawfordsville, but when the now owner of Elavus CrossFit initially left coaching to train in his garage, Jen and Mike knew Elliott was one of the key ingredients to the final stages of their weight loss journey.

“I left coaching and they reached out and said ‘hey we want to come up and just lift in the garage and have you look at some of our movements,” Elliott said. “And that turned into what if we just came up twice a week and then that became ‘I saw them daily in the garage, and that was kind of the genesis of what this (Elavus) became.’”

Over time Jen and Mike turned in full-time Cross-Fitters and when they decided to dial in their nutrition even more, the results became more and more noticeable.

“With Mike and Jen, they lost weight and then really began to improve mechanically and physically and then when they really started to dial their nutrition in is when they got down to where they are now which is a couple of lean, mean savage Cross-Fitters like five times a week,” Elliott added.

Jen celebrated her five-year CrossFit anniversary earlier this year and has become one of the most accomplished athletes at Elavus. 

Athlete — a word she often scoffed at when she first started.

“I think one of the biggest things for me is I didn’t see myself as an athlete,” she said. “I had very low confidence and self-esteem. So I needed that support and one of the things I look back on that was transformational for me and particularly giving credit to coach DJ and Elavus CrossFit is that he sees everyone in this gym as an athlete on day one.”

It’s the founding principal of Elavus, and the one thing Elliott has built his box on. 

That and making sure all of his athletes are doing things the right way.

“Not all CrossFit boxes are the same,” Mike said. “DJ is something special in the fact that the movement patterns he teaches people and just the meticulous task master he is about making you do it the right way — I’ve never had a single injury.”

And Elliott’s coaching style has rubbed off on Jen, leading her to become a certified Level I CrossFit coach.

“I’ll never forget the day that he (Elliott) told me I should go be a Level I CrossFit coach,” Jen said. “He kept bugging me about it and I think it took me a year to finally realize he was being serious about it and I started to realize and was getting farther along in my journey that I had an opportunity to help other people.”

Jen has taken it one step further, creating the nutritional company ’51 Bridges’ in order to offer clients one-on-one nutritional coaching.

“Food was kind of my core issue,” she said. “And I heard a friend say once that the hardest thing about fitness is nutrition and I think that’s the case for a lot of people. We think that we can out-run our bad diets.”

The Pendletons have come a long way since their CrossFit journey started.

Mike can comfortably do things inverted for the first time since he can remember, while a year-long journey on a quest to do a pull-up for Jen has turned into the couple doing things they never thought were possible before.

“I had this quest to do a pull-up,” Jen said. “I hadn’t done a pull-up my entire life, and I thought wouldn’t that be cool. So all the sudden all these goals and desires and dreams that I would have considered ridiculous as a woman who had been obese for two decades to be even thinking those things were even within my realm of possibility.”

It didn’t all happen over night though.

Hours and hours of hard work. Eating right, and plenty of failure to go along with the success.

It’s all paid off though, and proved one thing.

Every CrossFitter is an athlete. No matter the age, and no matter the weight.

“What we’ve done pretty much anybody can do,” Mike said. “It’s nothing special. I didn’t get 300 pounds over night, so I knew I wasn’t going to solve it over night, but it took a little bit of watching my nutrition and dialing that in to coming in here, showing up and doing it. You get used to the same, good people here. And you push yourself. It’s just what you do and you make it part of your life. 

“Now we spend time thinking about things that we can do, instead of things we can’t do.”

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